The enforcement of the National Guidelines for Management of COVID-19 has proven challenging since the virus was first registered in Uganda in March 2020. This has been more so during the political contestation period particularly with the large gatherings around aspiring candidates in different areas around the country. However, despite the government’s efforts and good intentions to enforce these guidelines, the Uganda Law Society noted with concern instances where security forces sporadically used gun fire, rubber bullets, teargas and arbitrarily arrested candidates to disperse supporters of specifically opposition supporters around the country. This led to bodily injuries, loss of lives and property, and arbitrary arrests of citizens by security forces.
The situation particularly took a turn for the worse on November 18, 2020; with the arbitrary arrest of the National Unity Platform presidential candidate Hon. Robert Kyagulanyi, during a campaign rally in Luuka District. The arrest sparked off a wave of protests in different parts of the country that lasted two days, during which civilians were embroiled in running battles with security forces; a situation that led to the loss of over 50 lives, destruction of property as well as the arbitrary arrests of rioters.3 Security forces fired live bullets, teargas and rubber bullets at and into groups of civilians, with some demonstrators erecting barricades and lighting fires on roads to protest against the arrests.4 The Hon. Patrick Oboi Amuriat, the opposition leader for the Forum for the Democratic Change was also violently arrested from Awere Open grounds in Layibi – Bardege division in Gulu district where he was scheduled to address his voters together with party supporters.5
It is alleged that the two presidential candidates, Engineer Patrick Amuriat and Hon. Robert Kyagulanyi, had been arrested for defying Electoral Commission and COVID-19 guidelines which require presidential candidates not to hold gatherings of more than 200 supporters during a presidential rally.6 Although we applaud the government for the relentless endeavors to enforce the COVID-19 Guidelines, we also note the contradiction and selective approach in the enforcement of these guidelines as candidates vying for political office under the National Resistance Movement Umbrella were seen in many instances going against these very guidelines, and yet were not stopped from holding massive rallies.7
3 URN, The Observer, November 19, 2020. Available at https://observer.ug/news/headlines/67415-bobi-wine-arrest-muntu-tu- mukunde-katumba-suspend-campaigns last accessed on December 7, 2020.
It was also reported that security forces in Nakaseke District allegedly interfered with the activities of some candidates standing on the National Unity Platform ticket.8 Moreover, it was also stated that the police were directly engaged in harassing, intimidating and confiscating their mobile address systems for community drives despite observing standard operating procedures for COVID-19 guidelines and those of the electoral commission.9
Institutional approaches to emergencies as provided for under Article 110 of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda should be applied without discrimination. That notwithstanding, the ULS in the strongest terms condemns the violence and impunity that was demonstrated particularly by the security organs on civilians during the protests and riots that in turn led to the death of several unarmed civilians including pregnant women and innocent children. The ULS also takes cognizance of and condemns the violence and lawlessness that was exhibited by the civilians’ criminal activity on the days in question.
It should be noted that Article 22 and 24 of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda gives the right to life and respect for human dignity and protection from inhuman treatment.10 In that regard the ULS condemns the arbitrary arrest, the unnecessary violence meted out on civilians and the extra- judicial killings that have characterized the campaign period.
The ULS commends the efforts of organizations like the Uganda Christian Lawyers Fraternity, the Uganda Catholic Lawyers Society, the Muslim Centre for Law and Justice, the Uganda Muslim Lawyers Association, and the Network of Public Interest Lawyers,11 together with other organizations and agencies which have come out to strongly condemn the illegal actions of the different players. We also commend the legal fraternity and other legal aid service providers that have responded timely to the numerous needs for legal representation, arising from these unfortunate incidents.
Whether the security forces are disproportionate in using their powers, thus stifling the civil and political freedoms particularly of members of the opposition and their supporters.
I. The ULS recommends that an extensive independent enquiry is carried out into the response to the continued arbitrary arrests and violence meted out on unarmed civilians by security forces; in particular the indiscriminate shooting and firing of live bullets and teargas canisters on unarmed civilians. The ULS calls for an independent judicial-led inquest into each of the lives that have been lost as a result of the unfortunate incidents.
8 Dan Wandera, “Police accused of blocking NUP activities in Nakaseke,” Daily Monitor, October 28, 2020.
10 This is an inalienable right under Article 44 of the Constitution
11 Lawrence Mulondo, “Lawyers condemn killing of civilians,” New Vision, November 23, 2020. Page 57.
II. Section 10 of the Human Rights (Enforcement) Act 2019 states that a public officer who individually or in association with others, violates or participates in the violation of a person’s rights or freedom shall be held personally liable for the violation notwithstanding the state being vicariously liable for his or her actions. The ULS therefore recommends that perpetrators in the security forces who are responsible for violating human rights during the campaigns are prosecuted and face the full might of the law.
III. The proportionality standard remains to the effect that a police officer should use force in equal proportion to that before him in instances of quelling riots amongst civilians. It is rather disproportionate for an officer to coach a gun at a civilian whose strongest weapon is a stone or even just their voice.